For well over a decade, writer, editor, quilter, and erstwhile poet and performer Mary Fons has faithfully maintained her blog, PaperGirl. Though the number of posts each week fluctuates slightly from daily to thrice a week or so, Fons’s thousands of subscribers rely on Fons’s unwavering commitment to post “fresh observations.” Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes outright strange, Fons’s blog is, at the very least, a respite for weary internet travelers, revolted by the endless news cycle and social media inferno.
But lately, possibly due to her demanding job as editor in chief of Quiltfolk magazine, or the ramping up of a major, as-yet-unannounced media project, PaperGirl posts have been sporadic. Her fans are wondering: Where is our PaperGirl? When imaginary journalist Ann Kotske called on her, Fons was at the (very real) family lake house in Wisconsin, sipping tea and wearing blue gingham check pajamas at 10 a.m. What follows is the first part of Fons’s first (imaginary) interview for Rolling Stone.
RS: It’s beautiful here. How often are you able to come up to the cottage?
PG: Not often enough. The last time I was here was in November. I came up with friends from the school newspaper.
How has your life changed since you got your master’s?
It sounds terrible to say, but I didn’t think the master’s degree would matter as much as it has. Certainly, plenty of people think an MFA in Writing doesn’t matter, that a higher education in the fine arts is too nebulous to have substance. There might have even been a part of me that thought that. But having done the work, knowing how hard it was, knowing how I was then compared to how I am now, it’s just night and day.
In what way?
I’m smarter! (Laughs.) Seriously, I can actually feel my brain working differently than it used to. I read a text or I sit down to write something and it’s like, “Oh, right. I actually know what I’m doing.” I’m also just two years older; I’ve been through more experiences and all that. But there is a kind of critical thinking I do now that I was absolutely not doing before. It feels … powerful.
I talked to a few of your blog readers —
Wait. Really? You did?
Well, no. But many of them have been surprised there have been fewer PaperGirl entries lately. Now that you’re done with school, you should ostensibly have more time to blog. Is it something else?
(Sighs.) Well, I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s been slow lately. It’s strange to me, too. With Quiltfolk and this other big project I’m working on, there’s definitely time constraints, but I didn’t have time in school, either, and I did pretty well. There are times when … (Long pause.) There are times when I think I ought to be working on essays, on longer pieces, and that my hours spent blogging should be spent working on those.
What are the essays about?
My illness. Fashion. The DIY country craft home decor women I watch on YouTube. Chicago.
Have you thought about closing the blog? Even for awhile?
Absolutely not. The number of posts may ebb now and then, but there is no threat of PaperGirl closing or drifting away.
Because it’s not a brick wall. I’ve said it for years: Even though this blog is about my life, I do not write PaperGirl for myself. It’s always been for readers. It doesn’t matter if there’s a handful of them or an army of them. Look, I write my diary for myself. Those volumes are solipsistic and scandalous and inappropriate and navel-gazey and maudlin and there’s no spellcheck. PaperGirl is not my diary. It’s a conversation. That’s why it works. It’s a two-way thing. There is a living relationship between the writer (me) and the reader (you.) And it’s a long-term relationship — the longest relationship I’ve ever had, by the way. I close the blog, I close that relationship. It means too much to me, so no way.
Right. No break-up. No divorce. We’re staying married. (Laughs.)
You mentioned in your diary —
Sweet living — you read my diary??
Just a few pages. It’s very good. You should think about publishing it.
This is unbelievable. Where is my publicist? (Calling.) Publicist!
Sorry, sorry! I didn’t really read your diary! I’m an imaginary journalist! Can we continue?
Only because you’re imaginary.
You seem to foster a kind of “woman of mystery” persona in the blog by being vague about various “big projects.” On Instagram, you redact locations. Even talking about your “scandalous” diary communicates that there’s the you we get here and the you we don’t get, a Mary that exists in other places and is doing different things. What’s that about?
It’s so funny: In this world of public pages and social media, anytime you say you’re intentionally not mentioning something, you become a “woman of mystery.” But I know what you mean. On Instagram, I’ll redact the location if I’m on a Quiltfolk shoot, since we’re not yet announcing what state is next in the lineup. That will change, by the way.
Oh, Quiltfolk is going to start sharing where you’re going next??
Yup. We’re going to start “announcing the season”, if you will. I’ll talk about that more this week.
So you’ll be posting more this week.
Every day I’m up here in Wisconsin. There’s a lot to talk about.
We can start anywhere you like.
Good. Let’s start with the second half of this interview.
Are you repeating me?
Are you repeating me?